[Editor’s Note: This review is excerpted from Judge Barrie Maxwell’s Precedents column, Marilyn Monroe: The Diamond Collection.]
I’m not sure what the reason is, but I find many urban-set films of the 1950s date more for me than do films of the 1930s or 1940s. Perhaps it comes from having experienced the ’50s to some extent as a child myself, but knowing the earlier decades only indirectly from what I’ve read or heard. Films of the 1950s, especially those with urban settings of the time, have a certain unmistakable look and stance — overdressed people (did all women wear A-line dresses all the time?), over-chromed cars, the all-consuming work ethic of corporate America, and all presented under the still firm, repressive hand of the Production Code. The Seven Year Itch is a perfect exemplar of all this. That it manages to transcend its time period and still entertain today is a tribute to the guidance of Billy Wilder who directed and co-scripted the film.
The tale is that of a Manhattan husband who works for a small paperback publishing firm. As is the case with most Manhattan families, the wife and children have been bundled off to Maine (or elsewhere) to spend the summer while dad slugs it out at the office in the city’s heat and humidity. Left to his own devices, dad (Tom Ewell) soon becomes entranced by a new neighbour (the Girl — Marilyn Monroe) who has moved into the apartment above. Keeping his marriage vows intact in the face of the Girl’s flirtations makes for a good test of dad’s fortitude and plenty of amusing incidents.
The film originated from a successful Broadway play of the time by George Axelrod. On the stage, the material was much more suggestive and forthright in its treatment of infidelity and use of strong language. For the film, it had to be toned down substantially and it was only through skillful writing that it was possible to retain the material’s original bite to any extent. The two principals, Ewell and Monroe, are both ideally cast. Ewell is the plain, ordinary guy that any man could identify with and Marilyn is the knock-out woman that any man could see himself fantasizing about. The two play off each other beautifully. Ewell was well-experienced with the material, having played the role on stage. Monroe, too, demonstrated an excellent capability for comedy that would later be tapped again by Wilder in Some Like It Hot. The result is entertaining throughout, though more mainly as a continual series of chuckles than any out-and-out guffaws.
The DVD presents the film in 2.55:1 anamorphic widescreen utilizing 22 scene selections. The source material was in rougher shape than any of the other films in the Diamond Collection and considerable work was necessary to fix it up, particularly on one reel that was badly scratched. The results are commendable. On the whole, this is a fine looking transfer. The picture is perhaps slightly softer looking than several of the others in the Collection, but colours are bright and accurate. Edge enhancement appears to be minimal. (Too bad something couldn’t have been done to improve the opening credits, though. As originally designed, they’re quite hard to read and a distinct dis-service to the cast and crew responsible for the film.) The sound track is available in both 3.0 and 2.0 stereo Dolby Digital. There is little noticeable difference between the two. They both deliver this dialogue-driven movie quite adequately — free of any distraction.
A very nice package of supplements accompanies the film. An AMC Back Story on the making-of the film provides a succinct, informative profile and two deleted scenes are delightful additions. There’s a Movietone newsreel on a sneak preview of the film and rounding things out are English and Spanish trailers, several one-sheet poster images, and a restoration comparison. The latter provides a very clear indication of how improved the current version is over previous video incarnations.